Reader J submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Boyfriend and I have been dating off and on for two decades and he moved in for good a few weeks ago. I’ve lived comfortably, and in fairly organized fashion, in 1000 square feet for years and years, and now his stuff is EVERYWHERE. I read over ALL of your articles on merging households, working with partners, gauging levels of clutter control, etc., but we both seem stuck in a tower of terrifying stacked boxes so completely overwhelming that even getting to the kitchen is problematic.
Due to outside demands–we both work full-time, and we both have families in need–we’ve only been able to give a couple of hours per day to this albatross of a project, and it devolved into him suggesting I just throw out a bunch of my stuff. I don’t want “his” and “mine” to dominate the conversation, but, honestly, where do we start? Clothing is everywhere, the closets are full, and he has four thousand CDs, five bass guitars, three computers … you get the idea.
Where would you start, short of calling A&E and volunteering to be on Hoarders? We just need a workable starting point and we both realize that Molly Maids can’t solve our organizational problems.
Thanks if you can answer this; if not, I’m calling in for outside reinforcements!!! Be well, and keep writing–I love this website.
For starters, thank you for loving this website. It’s really nice to hear.
From the way you describe it, I see three steps that will immediately help to reduce your stress:
- Have a date night. Between your home stress, your family stress, and your job stress, the two of you need a night of relaxation. Make a reservation at your favorite place, put on some fancy clothes, and go out on the town with each other. Don’t talk about the apartment or any of the things that are causing you frustration. Just breathe and be reminded of why you love each other and are joining your lives and your stuff.
- Call a professional organizer. The two of you are bright people who could work this out on your own — but you don’t need to. Hire an organizer to meet with you for a few hours on a Saturday morning to give you some suggestions for merging your stuff. Having an independent third party to give guidance is almost always a good idea, and organizers do this type of consulting all the time. If you were sick, you’d go to a doctor, so why not seek the help of a professional organizer when you could really use one? Check out the National Association of Professional Organizers or Angie’s List to find a well-respected professional organizer near you.
- Start with your biggest frustration. Walk through your apartment with your boyfriend, don’t have a conversation, just let your eyes get a real look at the situation. Once you’ve gone through every room, examined every cabinet, and inspected under the bed, sit down and talk with each other about what one thing bugged you the most. Was it that your clothes are no longer in the closet? Was it that you can’t sit down at the dining table? Was it the giant stack of boxes right by the front door? Let him voice his biggest frustration, too. Those two areas need to be handled first, before any other projects in the apartment. Work together to find a lasting solution, try to keep from yelling (touching each other in a caring way repeatedly on the arm or hand while you’re working can help keep your tone and volume in check), and commit to getting just those two areas in order. Once they’re in order, your stress level will greatly improve, making the remainder of the work in front of you more manageable.
Right now, you probably feel like he’s trying to cram his stuff into your apartment. He probably feels like you’re not making room for him in your apartment. It’s a tough situation, and that is why I think a night out to relax and remember why you’re moving in together is so important. Heck, take many nights out on the town to remember why you’re together if you have to! Your relationship and your feelings for each other are far more important than battles over CDs, clothes, and computers.
Thank you, J, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I have faith that you’ll get through this without any long-term repercussions.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.